AS the regular season winds down, teams continue to jostle for positions in the final weeks, as the postseason draws near. It was another round filled with upsets, thrilling finishes and huge comebacks.
Illawarra Hawks (96) defeated by Adelaide 36ers (102)
Two teams battling to keep pace kicked off the round in an important contest. The Hawks continued their red hot shooting form of recent weeks, jumping out to a huge lead early in the first half as they controlled the rhythm and pace of the game. The 36ers were able to up the intensity on the defensive end after the first quarter in which they gave up 32, holding the Hawks to just 21, 25 and 18 points in the final three quarters. As the game slowed down, Adelaide was able to gain control and gradually cut the Hawks’ lead down. Adelaide used a 30-18 final quarter to run over the top of Illawarra and restart its push towards a finals berth. Brian Conklin and Todd Blanchfield did their part to keep the Hawks in contention but were unable to contend with Nathan Sobey and Ramone Moore who combined for 45 points and were catalysts in the victory. The win for the 36ers brings them to within just one game of Brisbane as we head into the final month of the season.
Sydney Kings (100) defeated New Zealand Breakers (92)
After a perfect week last week for the Breakers, going 2-0 with two impressive victories, they headed on the road to do battle with the ladder leaders, Sydney Kings. The teams enjoyed a fiercely competitive battle throughout the first three quarters, with the margin never reaching double figures, as the Kings took a one-point lead into the final term. The Kings’ hot shooting propelled them to an early lead in the fourth, one which they would not surrender thanks to the big shot-making ability of Brian Bowen who owned the final 10 minutes. Kevin Lisch and Jerome Randle were impressive as usual and made the key plays when it mattered most on both the offensive and defensive end. The ability of the Kings to win the close games has been critical for them all year and is the biggest factor in them maintaining first place to this point. Their situational awareness and fearlessness in the biggest of moments will leave them in good stead come the postseason. The Breakers, despite the loss once again, showed they can compete with the best sides in the competition. They appear to be hitting their stride at the right time, led by Shawn Long, who is enjoying his best stretch of the season.
Perth Wildcats (79) defeated by Cairns Taipans (81)
The Wildcats and Taipans met for the third time this season,with Perth looking to go up 3-0 in the season series, having won the first two games by double digits. The Wildcats’ offensive woes of recent weeks continued in the first half, with them seemingly unable to generate any easy baskets to go along with the poor outside shooting. Their tenacity on the defensive end kept them in the contest as they held the Taipans to just 44 points in the first half. TheTaipans continued to hold the lead deep into the contest before Perth came home with a huge flurry, cutting the lead to one in the final moments. Melo Trimble split a pair of free throws to increase the Taipans’ lead to two with seven seconds remaining, which set us up for the grand slam finish. Bryce Cotton got off a good look from three to win the game but was unsuccessful, as the Taipans won their second game in as many weeks and knocked Perth down to third on the ladder. Trimble starred for the winning side with 32 points and enjoyed a nice duel with Nicholas Kay and Bryce Cotton, who combined to score 38 points for Perth.
Adelaide 36ers (90) defeated by Brisbane Bullets (102)
After a crucial win on Thursday, the 36ers found themselves with a huge chance to jump the Brisbane Bullets and take over fourth position. They were well on their way to another win, holding a nine-point edge heading into the fourth quarter before going cold in the final 10 minutes as the Bullets got hot and found their offence. The Bullets outscored the 36ers 35-14 in the final term and ran out 12-point victors in a loss that significantly damages Adelaide’s chances as we draw closer and closer to the finals series. Lamar Patterson and Matthew Hodgson put in double doubles, controlling the offensive and defensive boards while former Chicago Bull, Cameron Bairstow provided the bulk of the offence with 20 points. Demitrius Conger added his second straight strong game for Adelaide and showed he can be a key part of their side moving forward. The victory for the Bullets puts them at 11 wins and nine losses from their first 20g ames, while the 36ers drop to 10-10 and miss out on a huge opportunity.
Sydney Kings (84) defeated by Illawarra Hawks (96)
The Kings returned home to take on the Hawks in a Sunday afternoon clash. With Perth losing earlier in the round, the Kings had a chance to increase their lead above the Wildcats and continue to hold off Melbourne United breathing down their neck. As was the case last week however, the Kings were unable to take advantage of the opportunity in front of them, dropping a rare home game in a largely noncompetitive game. Illawarra took advantage of the Kings early and jumped out to a double figure lead, which they would maintain for the majority of the contest. The Kings’ offence never really kicked into action, with the role players outside of Jerome Randle and Kevin Lisch unable to get going. Andrew Bogut did put in a strong game offensively but had limited opportunities on just six shots. The bench unit for the Hawks kept the lead well when the starters went out of the game, with Jordair Jett and Emmett Naar pouring in 34 points in limited action, providing the instant offence. The Hawks continue to be a tough out and will be a side to watch in the final weeks.
Cairns Taipans (89) defeated by Melbourne United (99)
In the final game of the round, the second place Melbourne United had a chance to keep pace with the Sydney Kings and close the round out even in the loss column. After winning just two of their first 15 games, the Taipans had a chance to have their first perfect week and start their first winning streak of the season. The Taipans appeared to be well on their way to that second straight victory after Melo Trimble hit a big three to put them up by 13 points with under five minutes to go. Out of the time-out, United were able to make the necessary adjustments to edge themselves back in the game and be in a position to pull off an improbable win. David Barlow’s three-pointer with 17 seconds remaining tied the game and with the Taipans missing the final shot, the game went into overtime. In the extra session, United continued the momentum they built at the end of regulation, scoring the first 12 points of overtime and ultimately cruising to an easy win. Despite the loss, Melo Trimble turned out the highest scoring game of the year, scoring 42 points and hitting seven three-pointers in an unbelievable effort. Casper Ware did his best to match Trimble’s heroics scoring 27 points to go along with his six assists and five rebounds. The win pulls United into a tie in the loss column with the Kings, just one victory away from top spot.